States Increasing Quality of Early Childhood Programs

image of students in the garden

By Leila Sammander, CCSSO Senior Program Associate, Early Childhood Education 

Tennessee is developing a coaching pilot to implement high-quality curriculum and developmental practices for its youngest learners. 

State education leaders in Oklahoma are helping PreK teachers translate standards into practice. The state is actively engaging teachers in making the connection between curriculum, instruction, and developmentally appropriate practice.

These are just two examples among many advancements states made in the past 18 months, working with the Council of Chief State School Officers’ (CCSSO) Chiefs Promoting High-Quality Prekindergarten (PreK) Network.

Between August 2017 and June 2019, state education teams in nine states (CO, DE, ME, MN, MS, NM, NY, OK, TN), as well as Guam and the Department of Defense Education Activity (DODEA) worked to identify critical policy priorities to improve the quality of their states’ publicly funded PreK programs.

These states have fostered new partner and agency relationships, better understood the components of quality PreK programs, and recognized the importance and need to align a more cohesive PreK-3 system that allows early learners to continue to thrive through their elementary years and beyond. The network used the quality PreK program indicators established by the National Institute for Early Education Research’s (NIEER) State Preschool Yearbook to inform their state PreK policy agendas.

Topics such as curriculum and instruction, teacher workforce, and the alignment of a PreK-3 system were covered through in-person convenings, virtual engagements and site visits to high-quality PreK programs. Here are additional highlights of accomplishments that resulted from state’s participation in the network:

  • DoDEA established working relationships with community partners in an effort to clearly define the mitigation strategies required to reach high-quality PreK for all students. By sharing the resources and expertise from network driven initiatives with partners, the DoDEA team has been able to raise awareness and dialogue within agency leadership about what goes into implementing high-quality programs and created a platform to inform efforts to align programs in supporting transitions of early learners to later grades.
  • Oklahoma focused on curriculum and instruction as well as professional development for teachers to translate standards into practice. With a statewide professional learning focus for early childhood educators around purposeful play, Oklahoma has engaged teachers to make a connection between curriculum, instruction, and developmentally appropriate practice through conferences and workshops. Its efforts have led to two new NIEER Yearbook benchmarks related to early learning and development standards and staff professional development.
  • Tennessee has undergone a curriculum review process for programs to choose a high-quality curriculum for its PreK programs. They have designed a PreK coaching pilot that will focus on supporting districts in their implementation of a high-quality curriculum and developmentally appropriate practices. The pilot will be supported by communities of practice for participating program leaders to provide them with tools and resources to support the PreK teachers in their districts as they implement the new curriculum. The state’s efforts have also led to two new NIEER Yearbook benchmarks related to early learning and development standards and curriculum.
  • Mississippi has had strong leadership committed to the importance of quality PreK in the state, and has focused on the expansion of high-quality early childhood programs. The state added five state-funded programs to begin serving an additional 1,076 four-year olds, and increased their staff to provide additional support for coaching and technical assistance.

These are just a few examples of the policy impact that these states have made and it is an opportune time for these policy changes. Many of these network states are in the midst of their early learning goal implementation per their consolidated Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plans, and more than half of the network states were recipients of a Preschool Development Birth through Five (PDG B-5) Initial Grant Award – a grant designed to conduct a comprehensive statewide birth through five needs assessment and in-depth strategic planning to continue to improve student outcomes.

Thanks to CCSSO's network, which is now ending, states are well positioned and dedicated to continue this work on a more systemic level. Beyond strengthening particular components of their PreK programs, these states elevated the importance of establishing a more coherent and aligned PreK-3 system to ensure the success of their youngest learners. CCSSO is excited about this opportunity and will continue to support states as they design their early learning systems for the future.

Image courtesy of Allison Shelley, The Verbatim Agency for American Education  

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